Zoe Kramer went along to Chapter Arts Centre to take a look at a work-in-progress showing of Company of Siren’s new production, Dorothy, a play that’s set to explore the life and work of one of Wales’ most under-appreciated writers.
Dorothy Edwards, the “Welsh Cinderella” of the Bloomsbury group, has largely flown under the radar in terms of popular criticism. Her works Rhapsody and Winter Sonata were reissued in the 1980s, which opened her up to a wider readership. Still, she never seems to have reached the same level of acclaim as some of her peers. This work-in-progress production, currently titled Dorothy, pulls together the different pieces of her life that can be viewed in retrospect, connecting them to tell a compelling story.
A framing narrative enables the cast to face the challenges of piecing together who Dorothy Edwards was head-on. Instead of playing the roles directly, Gwenllian Higginson and Gwydion Rhys play actors who play the roles of Edwards and David Garnett, an English Svengali figure who introduced Edwards to the Bloomsbury set. This degree of separation allows for an open discussion of how to negotiate the complex dynamics of their relationship, and of capturing who Edwards was as a person, showing her vulnerabilities without minimizing the power she held in her own life. This also allows for the inclusion of Welsh language into the play, as even though Edwards didn’t speak or write in Welsh herself, this actor character does.
It is an unavoidable truth of Edwards’ story that her life ended by suicide. However, playwright Gary Raymond expressed his intent to portray Edwards in the full scope of her talents and complexities of her life, rather than as a female writer who committed suicide. To this end, the play has been structured in reverse chronology, with her death being addressed at the beginning of the play, and moving sequentially backward in time towards an optimistic ending, albeit one that is framed with the knowledge of where the play began.
The production rises to the challenge of conveying externally the internal cadences of a musical mind, with live piano music accompanying the actors throughout the play. Higginson remains firmly connected to the piano throughout the performance, with musical themes both punctuating and seemingly manifesting her emotions. The sonata form is a prevalent theme throughout, with exposition, development and recapitulation forming the basis of not only Edwards’ work, but also how she views the world and her relationships.
This preview demonstrated a promising start for what has potential to be a landmark work in the legacy of Dorothy Edwards. The creative team shows a strong commitment toward the nuances of this figure and a deep respect for her work. I am eager to see the production in its entirety, as it seizes a wonderful opportunity to tell the story of a remarkable Welsh writer and give her the mainstage.
Dorothy is a work in progress of a new play by Gary Raymond, directed by Chris Durnall and with music by Stacey Blythe. The finished play is expected to show in spring 2023.